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9 killed in as crackdown continues

world Updated: Sep 27, 2007 23:15 IST
Aung Hla Tun
Aung Hla Tun
Reuters
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At least nine people were killed in Myanmar on Thursday as the military junta cleared the streets of central Yangon by giving protesters 10 minutes to leave or be shot, tightening a two-day crackdown on the largest uprising in 20 years.

Far fewer protesters took to the streets after soldiers raided monasteries in the middle of the night and rounded up hundreds of the monks who had been leading them.

State television said at least nine people were killed.

International concern over the crackdown mounted.

President George W. Bush called on all countries with influence over Myanmar to tell the junta to cease using force against the demonstrators. The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against 14 senior government figures.

Neighboring China, one of the isolated country's few allies and seen as wielding considerable sway over the junta, said it was extremely concerned.

One of dead on Thursday was a Japanese photographer, shot when soldiers cleared the area near Sule Pagoda -- a city-center focus of the protests -- as loudspeakers blared out warnings, ominous reminders of the ruthless crushing of a 1988 uprising.

That revolt was crushed in a bloodbath in which more than 3,000 people were killed.

On Thursday in Yangon, about 200 soldiers marched toward the crowd and riot police clattered their rattan shields with wooden batons.

"It's a terrifying noise," one witness said.

The army moved in after 1,000 chanting protesters hurled stones and water bottles at troops, prompting a police charge in which shots were fired and the Japanese went down.

The crackdown began on Wednesday when soldiers and police fired tear gas, clubbed protesters and arrested up to 200 monks in an attempt to quash the uprising.

The revolt began more than a month ago with sporadic marches against fuel price hikes. The protests swelled into mass demonstrations against 45 years of military rule in the former Burma.

It was the worst unrest to hit the poor Southeast Asian country of 56 million people since the rebellion by students and monks in 1988.

Soldiers shot three people to death in a protest outside the city's heart as crowds regrouped and taunted troops. Their bodies were tossed in a ditch as troops chased fleeing people, beating anybody they could catch, witnesses said.

Another Buddhist monk -- adding to the five reported killed Wednesday -- was killed during the midnight raids on monasteries, witnesses said.

Monks were kicked and beaten as soldiers rounded them up and shoved them onto trucks.

"Doors of the monasteries were broken, things were ransacked and taken away," a witness said. "It's like a living hell seeing the monasteries raided and the monks treated cruelly."

After darkness fell and curfew hour loomed, sporadic bursts of automatic rifle fire echoed over Yangon, a city of 5 million people.

Monkhood versus military

Elsewhere in the former Burma, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said it had received reports of a big demonstration in the northwest coastal town of Sittwe, as well as incidents in Pakokku, Mandalay and Moulmein.

Details were sketchy.

It was unclear whether the protests in Yangon would regain momentum in the absence of the clergy, whose marches drew large numbers into what has become a head-on collision between the moral authority of the monks and the military machine.

The junta sent in the troops despite international calls for restraint.

It told diplomats summoned to its new jungle capital, Naypyidaw, "the government was committed to showing restraint in its response to the provocations," one of those present said.

The United States and other countries condemned the crackdown.

"I call on all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese junta to cease using force on its own people who are peacefully expressing their desire for change," Bush said in a statement.

In signs of an international rift over the crisis, at emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, China ruled out sanctions or an official condemnation of the use of force.

Beijing has a deep investment in Myanmar, with concerns about trade, border stability and fighting drugs magnified by plans to build oil and gas pipelines through Myanmar's ethnic ally mixed border regions into China.